Rock Hill is getting a new park in the heart of downtown. Here’s the Storyline plan.

A Rock Hill developer wants to take one of the busiest, built-up areas at the heart of downtown and put a park there.

Not a swings and slides park, but one following a growing trend in urban areas like New York City, Miami and Atlanta. This park would be all Rock Hill.

“There’s just so many ways that we can tell Rock Hill’s story,” said Joe Lanford with Lanford and Associates.

Lanford presented a plan Oct. 25 to city and economic development leaders for a $50 million project called The Link. The site bounded by Main and White streets, along with Dave Lyle Boulevard, is across from the former Herald property. The privately funded Link project would have 280 apartments in a five-story building. A parking deck, which would include some free public use, would have 700 spaces.

“This enables I think everyone to prosper, and that’s of course what we’re all about,” Lanford said.

Stephen Turner, economic and urban development director with the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation, said the project from Lanford, a long-time city manager, is the latest effort to revitalize the city.

“He thought that was going to be his primary legacy,” Turner said. “He was wrong. He is now building a new legacy as one of the primary developers in downtown Rock Hill. He’s completed a number of projects already, and now he’s working on his biggest project in the downtown area.”

The Link would be one stop on a linear park known as Storyline. It’s a similar concept to the BeltLine in Atlanta, Under Line in Miami and High Line in New York City.

Storyline would stretch from Fountain Park north to the Old Town area before crossing Dave Lyle Boulevard and the downtown rail line at the Link and former Herald property sites. Storyline would continue north to the Cotton Factory, Family Trust headquarters and University Center past the Laurelwood Cemetery, and onto Mill Village before stopping at Winthrop University.

“This is sort of the nexus of a lot of development that is occurring around here,” Lanford said.

A major feature would be the pedestrian bridge over Dave Lyle Boulevard and the railroad tracks, between The Link and the former Herald site. It could be concrete and steel, or incorporate square shapes since Rock Hill began as a single square mile footprint. It could have LED lighting from the walkway.

“We could make that not just a bridge but really an iconic bridge,” Lanford said.

The parking deck at The Link would connect to the bridge.

“This will not be the final site plan,” Lanford said of the recent presentation. “We’re still working on that, but I think the concept is valid.”

The linear park would incorporate existing and new features, including Fountain Park and Freedom Walkway. There could be public art pieces. It would pass former factory sites. Relief maps on the pedestrian bridge could show community growth.

“What makes it a linear park would be the little ‘parklets’ along the way,” Lanford said.

One such parklet would be the spot where Rock Hill started, on The Link property.

“Not every city knows the exact spot it began, but we do,” Lanford said.

There’s what he calls a “tombstone” there now, Lanford said, which isn’t quite the image the city may want to portray.

“We want to have that to be hallowed ground, so to speak,” Lanford said. “A place that we honor and celebrate, and a place where we can begin to tell Rock Hill’s story.”

Because so many former factories and mills downtown are converting to new offices, restaurants, apartments and more, Storyline would do more than relive the past.

“We can also preview our future for people,” Lanford said.

One of the more common phrases in economic development involves the idea of somewhere to live, work and play. Lanford said Rock Hill has done plenty in recent years and decades to become a “liveable” city. Projects like Storyline, he said, will go far toward also making it a lovable one.

“There is some magic in linking things and tying things together,” Lanford said. “I think this will really make Rock Hill a lovable city.”

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.
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